Listening to The Video Game History Hour podcast made me think more about game preservation. Specifically, the issues of preserving mobile games for smart devices. Gacha games are difficult to fully preserve unless the developers choose to make offline versions, usually leaving players to archive assets on their own. Stand-alone mobile games are also tricky; due to Apple and Android operating systems receiving regular upgrades, it becomes difficult over time for developers to maintain their games. As a result, many devs will simply opt to delist their games. To make matters more complicated, iOS being such a closed operating system means that emulation is difficult, and obtaining exclusive games that are delisted requires sideloading methods. The frustrations of fleeting digital media ownership on top of everything is a conversation for another day, but it’s the unfortunate cherry on a shit sundae. For example, one of the games I remembered was one that I legally own but can no longer access since it was a) delisted and b) I no longer own an Apple device with an old enough version of iOS to even play it. With so many mobile games available on smart devices, I wanted to examine a couple of games from the early 2010’s that received ports to other consoles, and one more that didn’t/hasn’t been ported, and why that is concerning.
Chaos Rings are a series of turn-based RPGs published by Square Enix around the early 2010’s for mobile devices and later ported to the PS Vita. The games were developed by Media.Vision, who originally worked on the Wild Arms series and later Valkyria Chronicles entries. The first Chaos Rings game involves a group of couples forced into a death tournament by a menacing entity. Of course, things are not as simple as they seem, and the game’s plot is later revealed to be the more complicated plannings of a higher being.
Chaos Rings I is interesting from a technical and mechanical standpoint. The series l is a genuine effort from Square Enix to create fully realized JRPGs for mobile devices, with design nods to old-school JRPGs balanced out with accessible mechanics for more casual gameplay. For example, the first three games utilize 3D models on top of pre-rendered backgrounds, evoking the feel from PS1 Final Fantasy games. The first game allows players to set the levels of enemies in each area, which allows for easier exploration and the ability to grind levels more easily. In combat, the couples can function as either independent entities or pair up; pairing up allows for more damage done in a single turn but both characters will receive damage at the same time if attacked. Both characters can also learn and equip various skills from “genes” that can be obtained by defeating enemies.
Dusk Diver originally released in 2019, and was developed by JFI Games, a seemingly obscure (or perhaps just small) game studio from Taiwan. I wasn’t able to find much info about the studio other than that they worked on a mobile card game called Bound Strike at some point. A direct sequel, aptly titled Dusk Diver 2, was released in 2022.
Dusk Diver focuses on high school student Yang Yumo, on her summer break in the Ximending district of Taipei, Taiwan. During an average shopping outing with her friend Yusha, the two are suddenly transported to an alternate version of the city, known as Youshanding, and attacked by monsters called Chaos Beasts. Yumo is assisted by Leo, a stone lion Kunlunian Guardian from the spirit realm. In the heat of the action, Yumo borrows Leo’s spirit energy and fends off the monster threat, but finds herself unable to re-disperse Leo’s powers back and maintain her non-fiery-haired normal form. After being introduced to Boss, a mysterious researcher Guardian trapped in the form of a ceramic bear, Yumo reluctantly agrees to work for Boss’s convenience store in exchange for possible assistance in returning to her normal self. As Yumo becomes more involved in investigating supernatural incidents in Ximending, she’s later joined by two other Guardians: Bahet, a bat Guardian slowly learning the ways of the human world, and La Viada, a fish Guardian and popular model and actress.
West of Loathing was originally released in 2017, by developer Asymmetric Publications. It is a spinoff of long-running web browser MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing, and maintains similar mechanics, terminology, and stick figure visuals from. A DLC scenario, Reckonin’ at Gun Manor, was released in 2019, and a follow-up game themed around a Lovecraftian setting was released without prior announcement in November 2022.
West of Loathing follows the adventures of the player-created protagonist, who can take the role of a Cow Puncher, Beanflinger, or Snake Oiler (fighter, mage, and ranger, respectively). After leaving their mundane family life behind, the protagonist journeys their way west, with the thriving town of Frisco as their destination. After first traveling to Boring Springs, the player picks up a horse for traveling and a pardner to assist in combat, before heading to a larger region divided by the mountains. Along the way, the protagonist tangles with demonic cows, evil rodeo clowns, mysterious alien technology, necromancy, cultists, and ghost bureaucracy.
A wise man once said “it’s surprisingly easy to hack your Nintendo 3DS.” With the impending death of the 3DS’s eShop , I finally decided to pull my trusty New™ 3DS XL out of its two-year retirement and hack it. I expected this activity to be a nice little distraction for a couple of weeks and instead I opened a gateway to a massive (but fun) time sink that is still preoccupying me a good five months later. But what exactly is so fun about hacking a little Nintendo console? It turns out, many, many things.
Ease of Hacking
Hacking a 3DS is, as the memes say, pretty easy. To avoid the technical nitty-gritty and summarize that it mostly involves moving files around, and as long as you can follow instructions and have about an hour to kill, it’s nothing complicated. Nintendo did patch an exploit with some recent firmware updates that sealed up the exploit used with Pokemon Picross, but smart people found a workaround.
Fragrant Story was created by William Kage and his development team Squire Games. Previously, Kage worked on a variety of fanmade tracks for existing SNES games, even going so far as to create a library of Soundfonts for other artists to use for the creation of ‘authentic’-sounding retro music. Kage has completed a Final Fantasy VI ROM hack, and is currently working on several not-for-profit game projects inspired by SNES titles. His main work-in-progress is an EarthBound/MOTHER-inspired game cheekily titled Otosan. Kage planned for Otosan to see a 3DS release, but due to Nintendo discontinuing the 3DS in 2020 with plans to close the console’s eshop in 2023, Kage scrambled to create a smaller-scale game to submit to Nintendo for last-minute approval. Kage opted to expand on a mini-game from Otosan, and Fragrant Story was released as a stand-alone.
Contextualized as a VR arcade game played by the kids in Otosan, Fragrant Story weaves a simplistic tale of battle within the kingdom of Flowergard. The kids take on the role of Fleuristas, warriors with different skills and powers, to protect the kingdom’s leader, Queen Mango. Led by the smooth-talking Colonel Rhubarb, the Fleuristas must fight their way to Wolfsbane, a vicious wolf man who guards the game’s final area, Bramble Hollow.
Monster Crown was developed by Studio Aurum, an independent development team composed of lead developer Jason Walsh and designer/writer Shad Schwarck, along with their music team. According to the game’s Kickstarter, Monster Crown was a project developed in their free time in early 2016, before being Kickstarted in 2018, and finally released in 2020.
In a world where monsters and humans coexist, Monster Crown places the player in the shoes of a bright 14-year-old, living in the countryside with their parents. After helping their Dad with some errands, and showing promise as a budding monster tamer in the process, the player receives a starter monster from a magazine personality quiz. New friend in tow, the player sets out to befriend more monsters and travel across the continent.
Content warning: as per usual with Nitroplus CHIRAL’s works, Togainu no Chi is a game that explores various dark themes, including sexual assault, sexual slavery, nonconsensual body modification, and drug use. While not as dark as parts of DRAMAtical Murder or roughly 70% of the content in Sweet Pool, please use your best judgement before proceeding.
Way back in ~2006 as a last bastion middle-school Xanga user, I stumbled upon someone who made a custom blog layout with the background being a sad-looking anime guy clutching bloody dog tags. Within the same year, I was perusing Photobucketfor pictures and ended up stumbling upon CGs from a game I would later learn was called Togainu no Chi. At the time, I was drawn to the character designs (and very ignorant of the saucier content), so the game’s existence has been present in the corners of my mind for a while. Now, thanks to JAST Blue finally putting an official release out, I can finally tackle this oddity.
Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ (“Blood of the Reprimanded Dog”) was originally released back in 2005 as Nitroplus CHIRAL’s debut boy’s love (BL) title. Like many other Nitroplus CHIRAL titles, the game also received various console ports that probably cleaned up some of the game’s more explicit content. Despite the game’s age and reputation as a debut title, TnC seems to be rated pretty highly amongst other BL games and even other Nitroplus CHIRAL games.
Rakuen is an RPG Maker adventure game created by Laura Shigihara. Shigihara is a singer, songwriter, and soundtrack composer who has contributed music to various games, including Melolune, Plants vs Zombies, To The Moon, and Deltarune. Rakuen is the first game created and developed by Shigihara and was released in 2017.
Rakuen follows the story of a child only known as the “boy”. Stuck in a hospital for certain reasons (and wearing a cool paper samurai helmet), his greatest joy comes from his mother’s regular visits, when she reads him his favorite book, Rakuen. The tale of Rakuen described a mystical fantasy forest under the charge of guardian Morizora, who can grant wishes. One day, the book goes missing, and after slipping away to the guarded-off and worn segments of the hospital, the boy confronts a mysterious old man named Uma, who has been stealing various items from the hospital. Uma reveals that Morizora’s forest is real and demonstrates that a magical door between worlds can allow the boy to travel there. The boy and his mother make their way through Morizora’s cave, where they find the guardian of the forest is sleeping and can only be awaken by activating runes tied to various individuals – the forest dwellers who are alternate versions of various hospital denizens. To awaken runes, the boy must learn about the problems these individuals experienced, help guide them along, and obtain their songs.
Not many logistics group hire a pocky-eating wolf girl and a pie-obsessed angel.
On and off over the years, I’ve made occasional attempts to get into a variety of gacha games, but nothing’s really stuck. Typically, I get easily frustrated with these types of games, as their difficulty plateaus and meta-imbalances, designed to leech money out of players, tends to be inscrutable for me. I also follow a lot of the criticisms marked at these games, of the smarmy “who would pay hundreds of dollars for a JPEG image of a waifu that can be taken away from you if the game shuts down?” variety. Around mid-2020, I decided to make another attempt at gacha games, starting with Tales of Crestoria and Sinoalice. I was remarkably disappointed by Sinoalice, after being personally excited for the game’s release for over a year as a massive Yoko Taro fan. The game has a great soundtrack and art direction but it’s also an absolute snooze fest to play. I’ve still been following Tales of Crestoria since launch and will openly admit I dislike playing the game. I never got the chance to play Tales of the Rays before Bamco shuttered the English release, so I’m stuck with a super boring turn-based Tales of title. I dislike the gameplay to the point of always letting the game’s barely optimal auto-battle work for me. I mostly stick with the game because of the surprisingly good story and game-original cast, particularly the murderous love interest Misella and self-aware edgelord hedonist Vicious. I also started playing Princess Connect Re: Dive (which I…like? I don’t have a strong opinion on it), and I’m eagerly awaiting the English release for Touken Ranbu.
Amidst this mess of gacha game attempts and questionable usage of free time, I also got into Arknights around the end of 2020. I didn’t really start “seriously” playing the game until January of this year, but the game managed to subsume the better part of my free time, for good reason.
Whoever designed the UI deserves a raise, honestly.
In the past decade, there’s been an increase in RPGMaker games focused on story and character interaction, often sidelining the RPG aspects or removing them entirely. One of the best examples of this is Freebird Games’s To The Moon, a sci-fi drama about altering the memory of a dying man. To The Moon is focused on its characters, story, and futuristic setting. However, its gameplay is simplistic, involving navigating the protagonist scientist characters through memory landscapes and solving simple puzzles. The rise of itch.io also helped encourage the rise of non-standard RPGMaker games, since the site allows for easier hosting of indie titles without having to traverse the Steam approval process. Plus, fan translations of Japanese RPGMaker games are surprisingly plentiful, thanks to contributors like vgperson, who also worked on many official paid Steam releases.
Using RPGMaker for narrative-driven adventure games rather than sword-and-sorcery RPGs is nothing new. Indie Japanese horror games made using RPGMaker are practically a genre on their own, popularized by fan translators and Let’s Plays. Fun fact: while Yume Nikki is probably best known for popularizing Japanese RPGMaker horror games amongst an English-speaking audience, many aspects of its stylistic blend of surrealistic horror can be traced back to the 1998 game Palette, which later received a PS1 re-release.